By Smarty Guest Blogger Joe Hernick, Director of Educational Technology, Charlotte Country Day School
How much screen time is right for your child? If you were to ask my six year old, I suspect she’d venture “as much as I want.” My tween would offer something a bit more nuanced, with the implication that she can self-regulate her iPad and TV time while still being an involved member of our family and society.
Our household screen rules place my kids on the far edge of the screen time bell curve, with an average of 30 minutes to an hour of viewing and interaction per day over the course of the week. Some days rate a joyful zero minutes, while a rainy Sunday may end up with ninety minutes of My Little Pony episodes and an hour of Minecraft on an iPad mini. This places us far out of the seven-hours of entertainment media per day norm for most kids in the US.
An informal poll of my peers reveals a wide spectrum of family policies, from folks who hold firm to the one to two hours recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics to laissez-faire attitudes of “no TV, but unlimited iPad” to looks of horror from parents as they added up their children’s electronic diet. If we’re honest and tally up all the ways our kids watch screens at home, at school, in the car, in public places… the total time devoted to watching, texting, swiping and consuming media can be overwhelming.
So what is the right answer? How much device time is right for your child? My standard answer to Country Day parents is the old IT classic, “It depends.”
– It depends on how much quality non-screen time you are able to spend with your kids (off-line connections and a healthy, active lifestyle help to balance device and TV time.)
– It depends on age (the simplest rule of thumb is younger = less time in front of any screen, big or small.)
– It depends on how your child is impacted by dopamine responses triggered by highly stimulating games (one of my kids gets super cranky, the other seems to achieve a Zen-like balance.)
– It depends on the circumstance of the day (our house rules are relaxed when we fly or take an eight hour road trip to Grampy’s house.)
– It depends on type of use (I’m far more supportive of an hour spent staging and filming Lego figures and our dog in a stop-motion movie than I am with an hour spent playing Candy Crush.)
We know our kids. We know the reality of our busy lives and the distractions of devices. I am intimately familiar with the rationalization of “edutainment” as a justification for screen time with my own kids. My best, real advice is to simply be aware of screen time and set some broad ground rules. We find our most effective parenting tools are screen guidelines for the entire family:
– Try to average no more than an hour per day outside of work/school.
– No devices at meals.
– Family movie night on one screen for all, no other devices allowed.
– All screens dark an hour before bedtime.
Bottom line—these personal family guidelines reinforce real-world connections with our kids.
Our children spend more time being siblings (for good and bad) versus retreating into private worlds. Yes, they get frustrated when friends are playing Minecraft and we won’t let them join online. Fights can start when we tell them “time’s up.” They pout, hold grudges and give evil stares. They also call me out if I reach for my phone to check email near bedtime, and I’m good with that.